Twelve months before two planes hurtled into New York, the streets of Melbourne were locked down by one of the biggest protests the city had ever seen. The World Economic Forum (WEF) had come to town and had taken over the World Trade Centre and parts of Crown Casino. Two-metre-high cyclone fencing was erected to circle the venue and commuters were forced to take the long way around Clarendon and Power streets in South Melbourne.
People from across the country descended onto the streets surrounding the conference, marching against the cancer of global corporate capitalism. They formed affinity groups of all shapes, sizes and ages. They were following in the footsteps of thousands of Americans who had successfully disrupted the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle on November 30, 1999. They were carrying Naomi Klein’s No Logo in their back pocket, a book that laid bare the extent to which the profits of so many well-known brands depended on the exploitation of people, often children, in Third World countries.
The global justice or anti-globalisation movement was founded long before the global financial crisis of 2008; long before Wall Street cowboys rode the wild bull of risk to oblivion and Greece became a basket case. It forewarned of the consequences of excessive, self-interested, out of control capitalism.
But the movement was silenced 12 months later by the event that transformed S11 into 9/11. What followed were 10 years of global fear, as neo-liberals and neo-conservatives took advantage of terrorism and war, to drown out these dissenting voices. Anti-terrorism laws not only protected us from bombs in planes, trains and buses, but they also served to slow down a growing movement of disenchantment coming from the Left.
Before S11 was 9/11, I was a trainee lawyer working for Slater & Gordon’s freshly minted public interest unit, with an office next door to Adam Bandt, now the Greens Member for Melbourne.
On the day of the S11 protests, I stayed at my desk, listening to the helicopters circling the mass protest. The phone calls started that afternoon. The broken noses, limbs, head injuries and emotional fallout of a police operation that relied on excessive force. Peaceful protesters became fodder in the much more important task of protecting WEF delegates. Such is the respect for profit; the disrespect for people.
Taking instructions from over 200 peaceful protesters, all with varying degrees of injury caused by Victoria Police serving and defending undemocratic financial institutions, helped shape my own personal commitment to the global justice movement. Although I was the S11 lawyer only for a short time, the cause continues to have a deep resonance for me.
So I was there when the global justice movement rallied again in Melbourne and other cities across the country, this time under the #occupy hashtag, which had its genesis in the spontaneous occupation of the Wall Street protest taking place on the other side of the globe. I will lend a hand to the legal support team should they need it.
The turn-out was small by 11.09.00 standards. This is a movement reawakening itself. And with innovations in technology it is now more capable of being sustained.
It is hard to believe, but when the global justice movement first began to gain traction 10 years ago, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube did not exist. Now global positioning devices are hooked into handheld mobiles and following people committed to the same ideas as you in hundreds of different countries is only a tweet away. Facebook and Twitter haven’t won a Nobel Prize yet, but they will.
The fledgling movement knows the power of social media; of harnessing the power of billions of voices talking to each other at once. This motif for the movement is not just happening online. One of the innovative strategies for communication on the ground at #occupywallstreet is the brilliantly simple, human microphone. Necessity is always the mother of invention. When megaphones were outlawed on Wall Street, they were replaced by the stereo of the crowd, hundreds of voices repeating the words of guests speakers, slowly and clearly. Filmmaker Mike Moore, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and actress Susan Sarandon have had their voices amplified by the human microphone.
If this movement is to be sustained and to survive the flotsam and jetsam of history, the perilous risk of another financial collapse in the US and Europe and lay claim to a new vision of a more caring market, it will need millions of people raising their voices in unison.
And so, at the risk of being labelled 101 different, out-dated isms, I am adding my voice to the human microphone of the global justice movement.
Enough is enough. Enough greed, enough hunger, enough lies. Enough profiting from products that cause cancer, exploit the environment and rely on cheap, poorly educated labour in third world countries. Enough of the false and foul excesses of the market.
This is not about Marx. This is about greed. This is about democracy.
We are the 99%.
*Tanja Kovac is the national co-ordinator of the Human Rights are Aussie Rules Project. She is a human rights lawyer and writer and has acted for victims of police misconduct arising from a number of peaceful protests, including S11.